THE power ballad may be the high point of human evolution.
It’s a song that has to walk an incredibly fine line between sentimental schmaltz, and all-out aggression, without straying too far on either side.
It is, simply, a work of supreme art, the likes of which very few humans have ever managed successfully.
Let’s define exactly what a ‘power ballad’ is.
A ballad, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English is a ‘slow sentimental or romantic song’.
Slow is an easy enough parameter to set, ‘power’ is a more difficult thing to pinpoint.
Some misguided souls may find Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On ‘powerful’, but they would be sorely mistaken.
Similarly, Berlin’s Take My Breath Away could be considered, in some quarters, to be a power ballad. Not in my quarters.
No, a power ballad has to have some balls. For the purpose of this exercise, ‘power’ (P) is defined as a simple mathematical formula using a couple of other variables, power chords (C) and a ball-tearing guitar solo (S). It can be expressed thus:-
P = C + S (It will come as no surprise I failed introductory calculus.)
So, without further ado, may we present the five best power ballads in music history.
5. Scorpions – Winds of Change
Scorpions have always been something of a peculiarity to me, and their career had two distinct phases – pre- and post-Michael Schenker. This 1990 power ballad was the peak of their commercial success, and the lyrics – dealing with the rise of Glasnost in the former Soviet Union – were penned by singer Klaus Meine, who is credited as the sole writer of the song. It’s been dulled a bit by the passage of time, but it’s still a terrific song (heavily reverbed whistling? I’m in!) and Rudi Schenker’s solo is a ripper.
4. Bon Jovi – Bed of Roses
Bon Jovi could realistically have had three or four tracks on this list, but Bed of Roses is their finest ballad in my opinion. Spending his entire career with this band, you forget how supremely talented a guitarist Richie Sambora is, and on this tune he really rips out some amazing stuff. He’s aping Stevie Ray a little with the hat in the film clip, and he looks a bit stupid on that mountain (not as stupid as the piano player…) but Sambora would have to be one of the most underrated players of all time.
3. Guns and Roses – Don’t Cry
Feedback on the intro, Axel in full balladeer mode. Yeah, it could have been November Rain, but there’s something about the way this chorus soars, then falls that grips you more. It’s hard to work out what’s more chilling – Slash’s solo squeezed from a gold-top Les Paul, or his dangerous driving in the film clip.
2. Motley Crue – Home Sweet Home
Sensational track from the Crue, with Mick Mars pummeling his Floyd Rose on a dive bomb during the chorus a highlight. Kickstart My Heart and Dr Feelgood were big tracks when I was in primary school, but it was a couple of years later when I got the cassette Decade of Decadence for Christmas that I appreciated how many good songs they had.
1. Roxette – Listen to Your Heart
So much to love here, a fantastically produced piece of pop from 1989′s Look Sharp album. It’s got everything a good power ballad should have: Aeolian in origin, with a beautiful middle eight and that brilliant modulation up a third for the outro. The clip is amazing as well – live footage from the Borgholm Castle ruin in Sweden (don’t tell me I don’t do any research), Marie – stunning in skintight black dress – creating adolescent confusion, Per poncing about like he’s Jimmy Page. A sensational song, and in my opinion the greatest power ballad of all time.
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